The decline in faith in America and the rise in loneliness can both be traced back to fathers—or the lack thereof.
On Monday, The Heritage Foundation hosted a seminar titled “Faith of Our Fathers: Why Has Christianity Been in Decline?”
The discussion was moderated by Dr. Jay W. Richards, Director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family. Delano Squires, a Research Fellow at the Richard and Helen DeVos Center, participated in the seminar alongside J.P. De Gance, Founder and President of Communio, who presented on the Communio Nationwide Study on Faith and Relationships.
The study reveals that the collapse in marriage rates and the resulting decline in resident fatherhood may offer the best explanation for the decline of Christianity in the United States.
The study surveyed 19,000 people in 112 churches in 13 different states. It found that churchgoers are much more likely than non-churchgoers to have grown up with a father in the home. Less than half of young adults today had parents who were married throughout their childhood, but 80 percent of all churchgoers had parents who were married throughout their childhood.
According to the study, the way to reverse the decline of Christianity in America is to strengthen marriages. The same can be said about countering the epidemic of loneliness. De Gance said that nearly half of Americans are considered lonely, but the Communio Nationwide Study on Faith and Relationships found that only 22 percent of churchgoers are considered lonely, and only 15 percent of married churchgoers are considered lonely.
De Gance shared some insights from an Oxford University longitudinal study of 3,000 people that found that adults who had close relationships with their father were 25 percent more likely to have the same faith as their parents. On the other hand, the study found that close relationships with their mother made no difference in the child’s religious affiliation.
More specifically than strong marriages alone strengthening the faith of children and preventing loneliness is the presence of the father in the home. Children inherit faith from their father.
De Gance also noted a book by Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, which analyzes prominent atheists and agnostics and their failure to attach to their own fathers. Whereas faith is passed to children by a good relationship their father, atheism and abandonment of the church tends to be passed on to children by a bad or nonexistent relationship with their father.
The Communio Nationwide Study reveals that Christians buck the national trends when it comes to fathers in the home and the benefits it produces in children staying in the church, finding fulfillment in their lives, and entering into strong marriages and families.
De Gance argues that the only way to reverse America’s decline is for churches to do more to strengthen marriages. “To see renewal of faith,” he noted, “we need to first see renewal of Christian marriage.”
His message to churches is that they need a strong base within their community, which starts with strong marriages. Pastors need to understand that as they are interested in advancing the gospel, they must first help nourish solid marriages. Currently, 85 percent of all churches spend nothing on strengthening marriages within the community.
“You won’t be great at marriage by hearing a good sermon,” De Gance said. “Churches should be schools of love.”
He argues that if someone doesn’t know or has a bad relationship with their father, they can’t understand the sacrifice of God the Father sending His Son to die for the salvation of the world. The foundation of faith, purpose, and community is rooted in strong, healthy relationships in the church.
De Gance says that far too many churches act like it’s the 1950s, when people got married when they were ready, but that’s not a plan to help people counter the national trends of marriage and deal with the cultural opposition. Based on the Communio Nationwide Study on Faith and Relationships, he says strengthening marriage is the best means for forming future citizens and therefore reversing America’s decline.
Good marriages make for good fathers who make for good children.
Communio’s work was funded in part by a $100,000 award from the Heritage Foundation’s Innovation Prize, which recognizes and provides substantive financial awards to results-oriented nonprofits for projects involving research, litigation, education, outreach, or communications that help to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish. If you’d like to learn more about how to apply for these prizes, please visit https://www.heritage.org/innovationprize or email email@example.com.